The Triumphant Entry
God’s Theocracy Has Begun
When we think of the year 1979, we think of the Easter flood, which was an unmitigated disaster for the Jackson-metro area. However, there was another event in 1979 which was also highly significant. Jimmy Carter was the President. The Shah was the King of Iran. Iran was a prosperous nation and enjoyed good relations with most of the other countries of the world.
In a series of sudden and unexpected events, the Shah was overthrown by his own people in what came to be called the “Islamic Revolution.” The Shah was replaced by the Muslim cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini. Remember him? Oppressive Sharia law became the law of the land. Overnight, Iran went from being a Persian monarchy to an Islamic theocracy ruled by Muslim clergy.
As Americans we have an extremely negative view of Iran. Those who are old enough (and that is most of us) will remember the Iranian hostage crisis that occurred at the end of President Carter’s administration. Our embassy was overrun by Islamic militants, and our personnel were held hostage for four hundred and forty-four days. To this day Iran refers to our nation as “the great Satan.” We, truthfully, label them as the single largest exporter of state-sponsored terrorism and Muslim extremism.
As citizens of a constitutional republic that governs itself by a representative democracy, we have a very dim view of theocracy. However, the Bible sees theocracy as the ideal and only truly legitimate form of government!
From its inception, Israel was directly ruled by the LORD. God only grudgingly granted the people’s demand to Samuel for an earthly king, and the LORD warned Israel of the tyranny a monarch would impose on the nation (1 Samuel 8:5ff).
But even the monarchy with all its flaws became part of God’s great plan to liberate humanity from the oppression of man and evil. God established a covenant with the dynasty of David and promised that one of David’s descendants would rule as king of all the earth. The promise of a theocracy is woven throughout the entire Bible. The psalms and the prophets give voice to this promise repeatedly. A classic example is found in Isaiah 9:6-7. “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.”
The universal testimony of the New Testament is that God began to fulfill the promise of theocracy in Jesus Christ. This morning’s reading from Luke 19 marks the initial fulfillment of that promise.
Jesus is approaching Jerusalem, the city of the great king. Before he enters the Holy City, Jesus sends two of his disciples on a mysterious mission. They are to enter a near-by village where they will find a colt, probably a donkey, that had never been ridden upon. If they encounter resistance from the colt’s owners, they are to say simply, “The Lord needs it.” The two disciples follow Jesus’ directions, and everything unfolds just as he had predicted. Jesus mounts the colt and begins his final approach to Jerusalem.
Riding a donkey was an unmistakable messianic action that made a royal claim. The kings of Israel rode donkeys! As a way of declaring that Solomon would be heir to the throne, David gave the following command. “Take with you the servants of your lord, and have my son Solomon ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. There let the priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan anoint him king over Israel; then blow the trumpet, and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’” (1 kings 1:33-34). The donkey even figures in messianic prophecy. Zechariah 9:9 exults, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem was both a theological and a political statement. Jesus’ symbolic action was not lost on his disciples. Note carefully that these are not the crowds of Jerusalem who will call for his execution on Good Friday. The multitude was comprised of true followers of Jesus Christ. This was no fickle crowd. They spread their cloaks on the road before Jesus as an act of homage. (As an interesting aside, there are no palms in Luke’s telling of the story. Matthew and Mark include leafy branches probably taken from the field. Only John mentions palm branches. If we had only Luke’s gospel, we would call the day “Cloak Sunday!”) Jesus’ disciples praised God joyfully with a loud voice quoting Psalm 118:26. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!”
Jesus’ messianic action was not lost on the Pharisees either. They asked Jesus to make his disciples stop their exuberant worship. It is not clear what motivated the Pharisees' request. Did they disagree that Jesus was the Messiah? Or were they afraid Pilate would take notice and unleash his Roman legions to slaughter them all? Remember that some of the Pharisees had warned Jesus that King Herod was plotting to kill him (Luke 13:31).
We do not know the motivation of the Pharisees, but we do know that the unfolding of God’s ancient plan to establish his Chosen One as the King of all the earth could not be stopped. Jesus replied to the Pharisees' pleadings by saying that even if he commanded his disciples to be silent, the inanimate creation would break out in song. The stones would shout out!
Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise to establish a theocracy on planet earth. Since the rebellion in Eden, another evil power had been contesting God’s claim to absolute sovereignty. On Palm Sunday the limited sovereignty of Satan was beginning to come to an end.
But God’s victory over evil would come in a manner we could never have predicted. Jesus would do battle with the evil one, but he would do so alone. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when an armed mob came to arrest Jesus, his disciples were prepared to fight them off. But Jesus told them to offer no resistance. Jesus told his followers that he could ask the Father and God would send him twelve legions of angels (72,000!). See Matthew 26:53. But angels could not have helped Jesus to win the war over sin, evil, and death. Only the sacrifice of his sinless life could win the victory. When Jesus comes again as the uncontested sovereign of the universe, he will do so with the glory of his Father and his holy angels, but on Good Friday the Son of God fought alone. Jesus’ sacrifice for human sin and his resurrection for human mortality were like a spiritual D-Day invasion, a surprise attack that would inevitably lead to the end of tyranny.
Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem foreshadows his passion and serves as a stark reminder that today is the day of salvation. Jesus did not weep for himself. He wept over the city, the city that kills the prophets, the city that would enthusiastically shout for his execution at the hands of the godless Gentiles. "Jerusalem" in Hebrew means “city of peace.” But it was to be a city of war. The Jewish leaders, the populace, and their Roman overlords would wage war against the holy Son of God.
Jerusalem in Jesus’ day stands as a symbol for this world that lies in darkness. The world does not recognize the things that make for peace between God and man. The world does not recognize the time of its visitation from God in Jesus Christ.
When Jesus was born, the choirs of angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (Lk. 2:14). God’s intention for this world is peace. The biblical notion of peace (shalom) is much, much more than the absence of war. Peace is well-being, harmony between God and humankind, justice and love in human community. In his first visitation, Jesus accomplished peace for those whom God favors. He reconciled us to God and created the church, an outpost of the kingdom of heaven where the shalom of God can flourish.
A second visitation is yet to come, and it will not be gentle, meek, or mild. Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem in verses 43-44a. “Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” This occurred in 70 A.D. when the Romans razed the city and its temple. But the destruction of Jerusalem is but a foreshadowing of God’s terrible judgments that will be unleashed on planet earth when the LORD comes again to reign as the uncontested sovereign of the world.
This is a rather dire prospect, but never forget that we are still living under the year of the Lord’s favor (Lk. 4:19). It is still the year of God’s Jubilee, when debts are forgiven, the enslaved are liberated, and all that has been lost is restored. The Day of Vengeance of our God will come (Isa. 61:2), but not yet. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the time to recognize and welcome the things that make for peace. Today is the day to recognize and welcome the time of visitation from our God. Today is the day to bend the knee and confess Jesus as Savior and Lord.
God’s unstoppable plan is to reestablish a theocracy on planet earth, but not a violent, repressive, and brutal theocracy like the one in Iran ruled by twisted clerics. God’s theocracy is ruled by King Jesus who is perfectly righteous, just, and loving. God’s theocracy is the kingdom of God, a kingdom of peace. The prophet Isaiah described it this way, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the seas” (Isa. 11:6-9).
God’s peaceable kingdom will come. Before it is established for eternity, sin, evil, and death will have to be fully conquered, and their conquest is a fearful prospect, but it is well worth all the great tribulations that must come. We long for the return of the King, the day when the holy name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be exalted in all the earth. We long for the kingdom of God to come, for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Until that day, let us always remember who we are and how we are called to live. We too are numbered among the whole multitude of Jesus’ disciples. We are called to follow him in the way of the cross and to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for his mighty deeds of power in the death and resurrection of the Messiah.
So, on this Palm Sunday, let us say with the throng of old, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Alleluia! Amen.